John Sundman explores the question of whether the Internet will kill the feature length movie, and if it does, is that a fair trade-off? He references an earlier interview he did with Cory Doctorow where the answer to that question was assumed to be yes. Like John, I worry “about the wanton destruction of culture in the name of a bogus and ephemeral ‘progress'” and have mixed feelings when a new art form seems to be displacing or diminishing an earlier form.
John highlights a very wonderful web video that was also sent to me recently via email:
John claims an inability to describe the feeling it evokes, but I found his words compelling:
Sure, it’s just a little music video, and Lord knows a music video is not a new thing. But for now, tonight, this one feels to me like someting really really big. As big as the Iranian revolution on Twitter; or, more precisely, it’s an artistic exploration of the possibilities implicit in that revolution. And a big part of the reason for that is that it’s so human, so un-Godlike, so small…
I listened to the delightful Cory Doctorow interview (part 2) which is referenced in John’s post where Cory talks about the Reformation as an “explosion of a marketplace for faith,” which John’s recent blog post contrasts with “the costs, in blood and war and terror and murder and rape and rapine and starvation and hatred and blind tribal ignorance, that came with religious wars that accompanied the Reformation.” Regardless of the perceived moral implications, none of us really control the parallel evolution (revolution?) in media; however, we do control how we respond to it. The video above shows an artistic response to the trend, incorporating the kind of genuine person-to-person web video communication that can be routinely experienced on the web today. Cory reflects on how we might respond from an economic perspective:
It is not that information wants to be free… that’s an ideological statement .. the politic of bits is that they are getting steadily easier to copy, and barring something like a nuclear holocaust, they will continue to get easier to copy…
To the extent that you have a business or practice that relies on the idea that bits will get harder to copy than they are today, you are doomed…
there is no future in telling the people who are the potential customers for your products or services that they are crooks and that what they want is bad, even if you believe it, maybe even especially if you believe it
and regarding DRM and of people who deafen themselves to demand signals:
There is no customer who woke up this morning and said I wish there was a way I could do less with my music. There is no demand signal for it. What there is a demand signal for is like mp3s… fastest technology adopted in the history of the world is peer-to-peer filesharing. Commericalize that. Stop standing on the beach saying that the waves are too high and it hasn’t been half an hour since you had lunch. Instead start selling bathing suits and Coppertone.
I found John’s conclusion thought-provoking:
If you had asked me, on the day of that conversation with Mr. Doctorow, if trading the art form of the 1.5 hour-long to 3 hour long motion picture produced at great expense by the traditional movie-making industry for the art form of the 3 minute video produced for virtually no expense by a bunch of untrained people who don’t even know each other was a good bargain, I would have said “No, of course not.”
Today I would say, “hmmm, that’s an interesting question.”
It’s not always a binary choice, of course. Video didn’t completely kill the radio star, and rockaroll did not kill opera or the symphony orchestra. Sometimes “competing” art forms can coexist & continue to evolve even as the new form becomes predominant.
But sometimes the old art form does, in fact, die. If not in the sense that all examples of it are obliterated (cathedrals still stand, for example), but in the sense that the art form ceases to evolve. In this sense, for example, motion pictures with sound killed the silent movie.
And sometimes the change produces a net societal loss. Sometimes the new form is just kudzu that chokes out the varied flora that had existed there before.
So the emergence of youtube videos and the web in general (with peer to peer, etc) does not necessarily mean that movies are doomed. But maybe it does. And if the art form of the movie dies, will the emergent web video be an adequate substitute, or even an improvement?